How Many Feet In A Story?

Whether you are in the real estate business or you are just looking for a new home, knowing how many feet a story is in a building’s size is essential.

In this article, we take a closer look at what a story is and how it converts to feet.

What’s A Story?

In the English language, the word story can have a couple of different meanings. 

One meaning is related to a tale you are telling, and the other refers to the height of a building or any type of structure.

In real estate, a story is used to describe the size of a building, and it can also be converted to footage in order to understand the measurement better.

There are also two different spellings to story. In British English, the word is storey, whereas in American English the word is story.

How Many Feet Are In A Story?

There is no strict definition of what the height or square footage of a story is. Stories can have a number of different heights, and you can even find half-stories in some buildings.

As a rule of thumb, most stories of any real estate are between 10 and 14 feet high. This includes commercial buildings, retail stores, offices as well as residential real estate.

Some of these buildings are much lower, while others are much higher but 10-14 foot is the average height of a story.

When a building is designed, whether as an office block or as a residential home, the best average ceiling height where you can comfortably walk upright is 9-10 feet.

Sometimes you will also find that the first floor has higher ceilings than the basement or other levels of a building.

Office buildings often have to adhere to much more stringent regulations. They typically need additional plumbing, wiring systems and air conditioning ducts above the ceiling. 

This means that office buildings require a minimum of 18 inches (up to 24 inches) between floor and ceiling.

Saying this, the most common story height in the past was much lower than today, 8 feet. But there were also a lot of variations in measurements.

As a story isn’t clearly defined in height, it also depends on how you measure the exact height of a building level.

For example, you may want to include any joists and beams and the depth of the floor. This makes up usually another foot which can add to the story height.

If you have a nine foot ceiling, add a foot for the floor height and another foot for the ceiling, then you quickly come up to a general story height of around 11 feet but this does vary depending on the ceiling and floor height.

Origins Of The Word Story

The best way to find out what exactly a story is and its height is taking a closer look at the etymology of the word itself.

How Many Feet In A Story (1)

Today’s word “history”, which contains the word story, has its origins in the Latin word “historia”, which comes from the Anglo-Norman French word “estoree” (meaning building).

Both estoree and historia may have led to the word story in Middle English.

But the actual use of story as reference to the height of a building may refer to a tier of painting sculptures or windows at the front of a building which depicted historical subjects (so the Oxford English Dictionary).

However, some scientists believe that we got our word story from the Gaelic word “staidhir”, which means a flight of stairs, but this isn’t a commonly accepted definition.

Most etymologists believe that the word story started to refer to buildings as early as the 1400s.

Essentially people started to paint historical scenes on their front doors, and these “stories” were depicted on each level of a building.

So, you might refer to a house with “two stories” because there were several levels painted with these different scenes.

The same also applied when someone referred to the level of the building they lived in, when they would say that their room is on the “2nd story”.

As these historical scenes painted on the front of buildings were often different for each level, this meant that people could refer to a story as a place where they lived and how high a building was.

The Right Way To Use Stories To Describe Buildings

The origins of the word story may not be fully clear but the concept that people painted their buildings with historical scenes shines a light on why we use the word story to describe the height of a building today.

Today, there are a number of different ways to describe the height of structures and real estate.

One of the most common word used in addition to story is “floor”. When someone talks about a high-rise apartment building, then they often refer to the 15th floor, rather than the 15th story.

Although floor and story are often used interchangeably, they do not have the same meaning.

A story is a reference to the height of a building from the outside (due to the historical traditions of painting “stories” on the exterior of a building).

In comparison, a floor refers to the level height inside a building. This means that you talk about a 5-story building, but you live on the 4th floor.

While this can be a little confusing, it is the most accurate way of describing a building’s height and the height of individual building levels.

Final Thoughts

While there is no specific height definition for a story, the historical meaning of the word can give a clue why no definition has ever evolved.

Buildings were always a different height, depending on the way they were built and their purpose.

But the idea that the word story has evolved from actual stories and scenes painted on the front of buildings in the past shows how language evolves over time.

So, next time you pass an old building, you can picture the true meaning of the word story and its unusual history.

Nick Spieth